Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the first president of South Africa to be elected in a fully representative democratic election, is awarded the Freedom of the City of Dublin on his 70th birthday, July 18, 1988. Mandela is not available to receive his award on the date it is conferred, however, as he is a prisoner in South Africa at the time. On July 1, 1990, after his release from prison, Mandela finally receives the Freedom of the City of Dublin at a ceremony in the Mansion House Dublin.
The Freedom of the City of Dublin is awarded by Dublin City Council after approving a person nominated by the Lord Mayor of Dublin. Eighty people have been honoured under the current process introduced in 1876. Most honourees have made a contribution to the life of the city or of Ireland in general, including politicians, public servants, humanitarians, artists, and entertainers. Others have been distinguished members of the Irish diaspora and foreign leaders, honoured visiting Dublin. Honourees sign the roll of freedmen in a ceremony at City Hall or the Mansion House and are presented with an illuminated scroll by the Lord Mayor.
Mandela is honoured with the Freedom of Dublin city for his contribution to society and commitment to the study and promotion of Human Rights and also his work in the area of development and social inclusion, which has enhanced the lives of local communities in Ireland and fostered global links with institutions and organisations.
Among the notable recipients of this award are American presidents John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton, Mikhail Gorbachev, Éamon de Valera, Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul II, Aung San Suu Kyi, all four members of U2, Bob Geldof, and Ronnie Delaney.
Holders of this award have some ancient privileges and duties such as the right to bring goods into Dublin through the city gates without paying customs duties, the right to pasture sheep on common ground within the city boundaries including College Green and St. Stephen’s Green (this right is exercised as a publicity stunt by U2 members the day after their 2000 conferring), and the right to vote in municipal and parliamentary elections. Some of the ancient duties are that freemen/women must be ready to defend the city of Dublin from attack and, at short notice, can be called up to join a city militia. Also a law which was passed in 1454 states that freemen/women must own a bow, a coat of mail, a helmet, and a sword.